Turkey already bans more websites than any other European country. Now the government is set to introduce new controls that officials say are needed to protect children. Critics fear they represent an effort control the web.
The Turkish government calls its new Internet controls Safe Use of the Internet. They are scheduled to take effect in August and will require all Internet users to choose from one of four filter profiles operated by their server provider. Law Professor Yamman Akdeniz at Bilgi University in Istanbul says the measures open the door to government censorship of the Internet.
"We are concerned that the government [will] enforce and develop a censorship infrastructure," said Akdeniz. "Even the standard profile is a filter system and the problem is government mandated, government controlled and there are no other countries within the EU or Council of Europe that has a similar system. And the decision also states if anyone who tries to circumvent the system, further action may be taken."
Government officials say the new regulations are needed to protect families, particularly children, from pornography. But critics say it is unclear which websites can be banned and for what reasons, and the regulations can also be used to silence political websites. Nadire Mater is the head of the Turkish human-rights web page Bianet.
"Depending on the government, depending on the ministers, one can be put on the blacklist," said Mater. "This is not a democracy. We've experienced this before, because police, from time to time, they distributed these blacklists, and in some Internet cafes or companies we were getting the complaints from the visitors they were saying that we don't have any access [to] Bianet."
Bianet criticizes the government for establishing the new measures by decree, rather than by a vote in parliament and is challenging the new controls in court. Web freedom is a concern within the European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join. EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule stressed those concerns before the EU parliament earlier this year.
"Freedom of press means guaranteeing a public space for free debate, including on the Internet," said Fule. "The European Parliament's draft resolution rightly underlines these issues."
That concern centers on Turkey's record of courts banning more websites than any other European country. In 2009, the state stopped releasing figures, but the latest number is believed to be in excess of 12,000. Again, Professor Akdeniz.
"Several thousands web sites have been blocked," said Akdeniz. "And although the government claims that they predominantly block access to pornographic websites, several hundred alternative-media websites, especially websites dealing with the Kurdish debate, are blocked access to for political reasons."